Centre for Social Action: 2015

The Centre for Social Action in Cabinet Office supports programmes that encourage people to create positive change through social action.

This guidance was withdrawn on

This guidance is no longer current.

What is social action

The Centre for Social Action supports programmes that encourage people to create positive change through social action.

Social action can broadly be defined as practical action in the service of others, which is:

  • carried out by individuals or groups of people working together
  • not mandated and not for profit
  • done for the good of others - individuals, communities or society
  • bringing about social change or value

Social action can include formal or informal volunteering, the giving of time and money or simply people helping people.

The government originally set out its intentions on how to promote social action in the:

Centre for Social Action objectives

The Centre for Social Action aims to identify and accelerate the development of spread of high impact social action initiatives. This objective is achieved by:

  1. Identifying social action innovators.
  2. Supporting organisations with promising initiatives to scale up and become sustainable.
  3. Developing the evidence base on the impact of social action-based interventions.
  4. Working with policy makers and those delivering public services to help them understand the contribution that individuals and communities can make.
  5. Mobilising large numbers of volunteers by making the ask appealing and the act easy.
  6. Supporting the development of a modern and effective infrastructure to support social action.

Priority thematic areas

The centre’s priority areas have been chosen to reflect the government’s priorities, where there is a plausible role for social action to be part of the solution. The initial areas of focus are:

  • supporting people to age well and live independently for longer
  • improving health outcomes and wellbeing
  • supporting young potential
  • creating stronger and safer communities
  • contributing to prosperity, by eg reducing the cost of living and developing employment

The centre also aims to develop a modern and effective infrastructure to support individuals and communities to be more engaged and take part in addressing the issues that matter to them.

Types of projects supported by the centre

Through the centre we plan to fund projects that:

  • are able to demonstrate a positive impact on the desired outcomes and contribute to the centre’s objectives. Initiatives funded by the centre will normally be able to fulfil at least level 2 of Nesta’s standards of evidence for impact investment
  • use social action as a key element and a driver of the positive impact achieved by the initiative
  • can demonstrate financial sustainability through a strong management team, a track record of deliverability and a credible plan about how the initiative will be funded in the medium/long term
  • are ambitious in their reach, whether in terms of the amount of people they involve and benefit, or the depth of the impact they affect

The Centre for Social Action can support public services, charities, social enterprises and for profit businesses provided they can demonstrate that their projects will deliver public benefit. We can support incorporated entities and unincorporated associations with formal membership structures, but not individuals.

New ways of working

The Centre for Social Action seeks to work in new ways with government departments and with external stakeholders.

Based in Cabinet Office, the centre will work closely with other government departments, local authorities and policy makers to explore innovative ways in which social action initiatives can be integrated as part of the solution to some of the most intractable social issues.

We are also working in innovative ways with Nesta, the UK’s leading innovation foundation, and our partner in the design and delivery of the Centre for Social Action. Both organisations are working closely together to build on our mutual strengths to maximise the impact and reach of the centre.

Funding streams

The centre has a number of funding streams that contribute towards its objectives. The current funding streams are:

We are in the process of developing other funding streams in the centre’s other priority areas.

All proposals funded by the centre will need to comply with our funding criteria. The final decision on funding for projects will need to be agreed by the centre’s steering group and approved by the Minister for Civil Society.

Community energy

Community Energy Peer Mentoring Fund

The Centre for Social Action, together with DECC, is launching a new £0.5 million Community Energy Peer Mentoring Fund which aims to:

  • enable communities and energy groups to receive peer-to-peer support and advice to get started with community energy projects
  • capture and share best practice, successes and lessons learnt
  • create a user-friendly evaluation method which can be shared

The fund is supporting partnerships and consortia of community energy groups getting together to mentor and work with each other.

The Community Energy Peer Mentoring Fund closed on 12 December 2013. Read about the successful organisations and some of the projects they will carry out.

EDF Energy supports this initiative and will provide the groups with free mentoring support in business management.

Social Action Energy Pilots and Playbook Fund

We are running pilots in 6 housing associations with residents testing social action approaches and 3 different behavioural levers: incentives, competition and social norms. The pilots aim to reduce energy use and save people money on their energy bills.

The pilots will help build our evidence base on community-led approaches to energy use and support more sustainable social action. The Centre for Social Action developed the pilots, in partnership with DECC, and global action plan is providing the training. Findings from the pilots will feed into a ‘playbook’ of best practice which will be available online. This will help other projects to learn from and reuse the most effective approaches.

The pilots were launched at the end of February 2014 in 6 housing associations:

  • Aster Communities and Synergy Housing
  • Newlon Fusion/Newlon Housing Trust
  • Gentoo Group
  • Poplar HARCA
  • The Riverside Group
  • Community Gateway

Social Action Fund follow on funding

The Social Action Fund (SAF) ran from 2011 to 2013 and helped 40 programmes to increase their social action activities. Over half a million new volunteers were recruited through SAF.

In October 2013 we awarded approximately £3 million more to 7 programmes through SAF follow on funding:

  • BeatBullying
  • CSV The Professionals
  • IntoUniversity
  • The Reading Agency
  • Tearfund
  • StreetGames
  • Uprising

Innovation Fund

The Innovation Fund is a £14 million fund run by Nesta, the UK innovation foundation, working in partnership with the Cabinet Office. The Innovation Fund provides financial support of between £50,000 to £500,000 to individual ventures or programmes, usually in the form of grants.

Of the 5 current priority areas for the centre, the Innovation Fund is funding interventions in 4 areas:

  • supporting people to age well and live independently longer
  • improving health outcomes and wellbeing
  • supporting young potential
  • supporting and encouraging young people to succeed and find employment

The Innovation Fund is also looking for innovations that use new approaches to ‘impact volunteering’ to mobilise volunteers to increase and enhance the outcomes achieved by public services.

The fund has closed to new expressions of interest. We expect to include further areas for innovation in due course.

Step Up To Serve and Youth Social Action

Step Up to Serve (SUTS) launched on 21 November 2013 at Buckingham Palace with HRH The Prince of Wales. SUTS aims to double the number of young people aged 10 to 20 participating in social action by 2020.

The Cabinet Office is also supporting youth social action through 3 funds:

Youth Social Action Fund (YSAF)

YSAF opened in June 2013, offering financial support to social action programmes in Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Lancashire and Kent. £5 million has been awarded to 30 programmes, £4 million from the Cabinet Office Centre for Social Action and £1 million from the Education Endowment Foundation. These programmes will build the evidence base for social action on educational, emotional and personal outcomes for young people.

Youth Social Action Passports and Awards Fund

This fund includes £125,000 for a social action passport and awards scheme to support the YSAF trials. This will help develop a common, universal way to record and reward social action activity so that it is recognised by businesses and education. This fund closed in October 2013; successful bidders are joining the YSAF trial programmes.

Youth Social Action Journey Fund

This fund opened nationwide in October 2013, offering £6 million over 2 years. It will help organisations to:

  • increase the number of young people aged 10 to 20 taking part in meaningful social action
  • embed National Citizen Service (NCS) in the social action journey of the young people with whom they work

11 programmes have been awarded this funding. See more information about the successful bidders for these funds.

Rehabilitation Social Action Fund

Social action plays an important role in reducing reoffending. We have awarded £2.4 million to 12 organisations to increase support for ex-offenders to stop committing crime and transform their lives. Read more about the grant recipients and the social action programmes they will carry out.

Future online infrastructure

The centre is supporting the development of the online and offline infrastructure for social action, and is currently working with YouthNet to develop and find a new host for the searchable volunteering database Do-it. Bidding to host this project has now closed.

Community Organisers’ Social Action Fund

This £200,000 fund is run by Locality to test, develop and show evidence for a range of social action projects provided by communities for communities. It will develop some of the most promising community-led social action projects that have been supported by people who have completed the government’s Community Organisers programme. Find out more about which projects have been funded.

Carers Social Action Fund

The Carers Social Action Support Fund invests in social action programmes that support unpaid, family carers. It will run from November 2014 to October 2015. The projects were announced on 28 November 2014 as follows:

  • Age UK Buckinghamshire – carers of people with dementia will be matched with volunteers who will provide personalised emotional and practical support
  • British Red Cross Shropshire will match volunteers with young adult carers, aged 18 to 25 — by giving them a break from their caring role, volunteers will enable young adult carers to attend a volunteer led course incorporating life skills and confidence building
  • Carers Trust Cambridgeshire – volunteers will be trained as Carer Friends and Carer Ambassadors — this will improve carer awareness and lead to higher numbers of carers identified across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  • Devon Carers/Westbank Community Care — carers and ex-carers will be mobilised to support each other through carer ‘buddying’ and peer support groups
  • Parkinson’s UK will expand and tailor self management groups for carers of people with Parkinson’s — volunteer facilitators with experience of Parkinson’s themselves run the groups, which bring carers together to support each other, offering practical tools to support carers in their caring role
  • Shared Lives Plus will work with 12 local partner organisations to enable Shared Lives carers to provide breaks to more unpaid family carers
  • Thirsk Community Care — in Yorkshire, older carers will benefit from an expanded volunteer sitting service for carers — volunteers will enable older carers across York and North Yorkshire to take a break from their caring role by sitting with the cared for
Published 24 April 2013
Last updated 28 November 2014 + show all updates
  1. Added list of Carers Social Action Fund projects.
  2. Updated to include link for projects funded by the Community Organisers’ Social Action Fund.
  3. Added details of Social Action End of Life Support Fund to funding streams.
  4. Added information about the Carers Social Action Support Fund and the Community Organisers’ Social Action Fund.
  5. Updated to include the Supporting Older People fund, Community Energy Peer Mentoring Fund and Step Up To Serve.
  6. Updated community energy section to reflect fund deadlines.
  7. The Vulnerable and Disengaged Young People Fund has now closed for applications.
  8. Added information about the Social Action Energy Pilots and Playbook fund.
  9. Added information about Community Energy Peer Mentoring Fund
  10. Added information about the Vulnerable and Disengaged Young People Fund
  11. Added consultation forms and information about a new potential grant fund for existing programmes which use social action to support vulnerable young people.
  12. Updated the 'Rehabilitation Social Action Fund' section following the deadline for applicants.
  13. Added information for organisations interested in bidding to provide support to Rehabilitation Social Action Fund recipients.
  14. Added information on the Rehabillitation Social Action Fund
  15. Added link to Youth Social Action Fund
  16. Added information about funding grant programmes.
  17. First published.